Designer Minnie Kemp on the style secrets to the perfect dining space

Designer Minnie Kemp knows there are four ways to the perfect dining space, from candles to finishing touches

white dining room with gold table and red chairs
(Image credit: Future)

Is there anything more satisfying than gathering around a table with friends and family – chewing the fat, as they say, over a home-cooked meal? Creating a space in your home to sit and eat is as important as installing a bed for a restful night’s sleep – and there are a few key components to get right.

When it comes to dining rooms, a little flair goes a long way. I found my dining table at Kempton Market. It’s an oak piece with two extendable leaves and lions carved into the legs, ready to pounce. It was a total steal – but as with a lot of market buys, a little restoration is always necessary. For French polishing and spray finishes I use Steve McQuade, who can make found pieces look brand spanking new. 

If you're going vintage wood for any room in the house, this French polish kit (opens in new tab) will be your best friend.

Focus on dining table shape for a small space

white dining room with white oval table

(Image credit: Future)

If space is an issue, look for a drop leaf oval table with turned legs. This piece can be tucked away as a console table, then brought out when guests arrive. Augustus Brandt makes wonderful made-to-measure tables in oak and wenge finishes, and I’ve fallen rather in love with Laura Gonzales; her Rainbow turned oak table is to die for.

Topim Dining table, La Redoute (opens in new tab)

Topim Dining table, La Redoute (opens in new tab)

This inexpensive dining table may have a curved edge but it looks sharp - that smoky glass top bringing a sophisticated edge.

Lighting is key

pink dining room with green chairs and candles

(Image credit: Future)

Atmosphere is hard to create, and the correct lighting can make or break a dinner party. Candles are key: follow @bruisesgallery on Instagram for antique candle holders to add a sexy flicker to any occasion. 

Overhead spot lighting can be unflattering and aggressive, so I prefer a hanging pendant or chandelier centred over a dining table. Garance Vallee is a French multidisciplinary artist who graduated in architecture, and her designs – with Ancient Greek and modernist influences – are contemporary and cool. Flos is also very good, and their website gives you the option to browse designs room by room; I especially like the Aim pendant by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. If a chandelier isn’t possible, go for perfect wall lights. My all-time favourites are by Margitt Whittig: her iconic designs are sure to set the mood.

Geometric candle holder, Cox and Cox (opens in new tab)

Geometric candle holder, Cox and Cox (opens in new tab)

Chunky and modern, this is ideal to place to pillar candles on. Cox and Cox also has a great selection of more tapered and vintage-style designs.

Finish the space off with a rug

dark blue dining room with big purple chandelier

(Image credit: Future)

And lastly to those finishing touches. If you’re having trouble uniting and defining a dining area, pop a rug down. Peter Page recently started his own rug company and has something for every style. Rugs are like artwork: they create a mood and add texture and depth to any room. 

Speaking of artwork, while I was at the Slade Degree Show I came across the colorful work of Benedikte Klüver. This girl is a colorist like no other and is certainly one to watch. With artwork, think big: adding a large, colourful canvas above your dining table will give the area gravitas.

Most of life’s problems can be solved over a coffee and a tiramisu on a quiet Sunday morning, sitting at a table with friends – so take the time to curate your space and you’ll be well on your way to the perfect setting. 

Minnie Kemp is an interior designer, part of the team of design experts at the Firmdale Hotel Group. She has worked on the interiors of international hotels such as The Whitby Hotel and the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, and Ham Yard and Charlotte Street Hotel in London. She has also been involved in designing various residential projects in both the Unite States of America and the United Kingdom. She is the interiors columnist for Livingetc, reporting on trends and offering advice on home design and decor, and she was a judge on the first Livingetc Style Awards in 2021.